Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, February 10, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.

While several states have already moved to drop mask mandates, White House officials are still in the process of speaking with health experts to plan a transition to the next phase of the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the country could reach a level of “normality” if cases continue to fall and no new variants emerge. But Fauci advised that any transition from current safety requirements would need to be gradual due to the unpredictability of the pandemic.

At the same time, Gov. Jay Inslee announced the outdoor mask requirement for gatherings of 500 people or more will end on Feb. 18. Inslee is expected to announce next week when mask requirements for schools and businesses will end.

Meanwhile, 33 hospitals in Afghanistan have been forced to close due to a lack of doctors, medicines and heating. Only five hospitals in the country are reportedly offering COVID-19 treatment amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee has set a press conference today at 2 p.m. to discuss the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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New jobless claims in Washington remain below pre-COVID levels

New jobless claims in Washington rose slightly last week, but remain well below pre-pandemic levels as the state economy continues its recovery from layoffs due to COVID-19 and harsh winter weather.

Washingtonians filed 4,863 new, or “initial,” claims for jobless benefits in the week ending Saturday, according to data posted Thursday by the state Employment Security Department. That’s up less than half a percent from the prior week, and is around 40% below the same week in 2020, before the pandemic had begun causing major job losses. 

Washington’s latest claims data comes as the nation saw a 6.7% drop in new claims, to 223,000, the third straight weekly decline, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

Read the story here.

—Paul Roberts
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How to decide whether to go maskless as states drop mandates

As new COVID-19 cases fall in much of the United States, governors in many states that have mask requirements are announcing that they will begin to ease those mandates in the coming weeks.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, D, said a mask-or-vaccine mandate for indoor businesses would expire on Thursday. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, said the state’s indoor mask mandate will end Feb. 15, though unvaccinated people will still be required to wear masks indoors. State officials in Illinois and Rhode Island said mask requirements for public indoor places would soon be lifted, while numerous others said they will drop mask mandates in schools.

The growing list reflects a transition moment in a country where state leaders appear eager to find a new normal — but advice from health officials remains confusing for many. Many health professionals, including officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are advising people to keep wearing masks.

Read the story here.

—Paulina Firozi, The Washington Post

Two major cruise lines to drop mask requirements from COVID protocols

Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean will soon drop their mask mandates, relaxing their coronavirus protocols while the omicron-variant-fueled surge that tore through the cruise industry for months continues an overall decline.

Royal Caribbean will allow its latest mask requirement to expire Feb. 14, it confirmed, returning to a pre-omicron policy in which passengers could go without face coverings in areas designated for fully vaccinated people, including some bars, lounges, restaurants, theaters and casinos.

The cruise line’s website still instructs customers to mask up in other indoor areas when they’re not actively eating and drinking, in crowded outdoor spaces and at public ports in places where local law requires them. The policy is subject to change, Royal Caribbean said.

Norwegian said in an update to its Sail Safe guidance that it will nix masking rules for all departures starting March 1. The company recommends passengers wear masks indoors — except when they are actively eating or drinking — and outside when social distancing is not possible. Norwegian will continue to enforce mask requirements on European sailings depending on local government rules.

For sailings that embark after Feb. 28, “the decision to wear a mask covering when onboard is at the discretion of each guest,” the Norwegian guidance said.

Read the story here.

— Hannah Sampson and Nathan Diller, The Washington Post

Novavax says protein vaccine works for kids as young as 12

Novavax announced Thursday that its COVID-19 vaccine proved safe and effective in a study of 12- to 17-year-olds.

Novavax makes a protein-based vaccine — a different type than the most widely used shots — that’s a late arrival to the COVID-19 arsenal.

Its shots have been cleared for use in adults by regulators in Britain, Europe and elsewhere and by the World Health Organization, and are under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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US buys 600K doses of new COVID antibody awaiting clearance

Addressing diminished treatment options in the omicron wave, the Biden administration has purchased enough of a yet-to-be approved antibody drug to treat 600,000 COVID-19 patients, officials said Thursday.

The new monoclonal antibody from pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly will be shipped out to states free of charge if the Food and Drug Administration approves the company’s request for emergency use authorization, said Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. “We are going to try to be there to meet the demand,” he added.

The government’s move comes after the two leading monoclonal antibody treatments in the U.S. turned out to be ineffective against the omicron variant, which now accounts for nearly all COVID-19 cases in the country. Data indicate that the Lilly drug works against omicron, including the new BA.2 mutation. Lilly said the contract for its new drug — bebtelovimab — is worth at least $720 million.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

WA long-term care facilities to free up hospital beds with new non-COVID units

In an effort to ease omicron’s strain on Washington hospitals, 10 long-term care facilities statewide will open new units to treat non-COVID patients who no longer need acute care.

The Washington Department of Social and Health Services announced Thursday that it has also contracted with temporary nurse agency, AMN Healthcare, to staff 250 nursing professionals at the sites.

According to DSHS, long-term care facilities have faced staffing challenges, limiting the number of non-COVID patients the facilities have been able to admit. The units, which will operate until June 30, will free up 240 beds in hospitals for those who require acute treatment.

Read the story here.

—Amanda Zhou

French HIV discoverer Luc Montagnier has died at 89

French researcher Luc Montagnier, who won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for discovering the HIV virus and more recently spread false claims about the coronavirus, has died at age 89, according to local government officials in France.

Montagnier died Tuesday at the American Hospital of Paris in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a western suburb of the capital, the area’s city hall said. No other details have been released.

Montagnier, a virologist, led the team that in 1983 identified the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS, leading him to share the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine with colleague Francoise Barré-Sinoussi.

However, Montagnier was among those behind some of the misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus.

During a 2020 interview with French news broadcaster CNews, he claimed that the coronavirus did not originate in nature and was manipulated. He also claimed incorrectly last year that COVID-19 vaccines led to the creation of coronavirus variants.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press
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Here’s why mask mandates are falling across the US

As the omicron wave of the coronavirus subsides, several U.S. states including New York and Illinois ended mask mandates this week for indoor settings, while others lifted requirements at schools. The White House says talks are underway about how and when to move the country out of the emergency phase of the pandemic, but in the meantime people are advised to keep following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending mask use in indoor settings in places with high transmission rates.

The main reason mask mandates are being lifted is because of the drop in hospitalizations and case counts. This week’s epidemiological report from the World Health Organization showed that case counts fell 50% in the United States and 17% worldwide. Across the U.S., COVID-19 hospitalizations have dropped nearly 30% over the past three weeks.

Read the story here.

—Sara Burnett and Dave Kolpack, The Associated Press

Man upset over Canada’s mask mandates threatens wrong Ottawa

A man who wanted to join the protests in Canada’s capital over mask mandates called in a bomb threat so police would waste their time chasing it, authorities said, but he called the wrong Ottawa — a village in Ohio.

The man, a 20-year-old from Akron, Ohio, called the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office twice Monday, said sheriff’s Capt. Brad Brubaker.

The first time he made a bomb threat, and then in a second call he said he had been shot, Brubaker said. That’s when the man found out he was talking with someone in Ohio.

“He wasn’t paying attention and just called the first number he found,” Brubaker told The Lima News. “He said he was mad about mask mandates.”

The sheriff’s office said it would ask the county prosecutor to consider charges against the man.

—The Associated Press

Coronavirus can destroy the placenta and lead to stillbirths

New research suggests the coronavirus can invade and destroy the placenta and lead to stillbirths in infected women.

It’s an uncommon outcome for any pregnancy but women with COVID-19 face an elevated risk. Authorities believe vaccination can help prevent these cases.

Researchers in 12 countries, including the United States, analyzed placental and autopsy tissue from 64 stillbirths and four newborns who died shortly after birth. The cases all involved unvaccinated women who had COVID-19 during their pregnancy.

The study bolsters evidence from small case reports and it confirms that placenta damage rather than an infection of the fetus is the likely cause of many COVID-19-related stillbirths, said Dr. Jeffery Goldstein, a pathologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

He was not involved in the study, which was published Thursday in Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine.

Read the story here.

—Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press
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Outdoor mask mandate ends in Spain, Italy to follow suit

Spaniards removed their facemasks or stuffed them into their pockets for the first time in nearly two months after the country’s outdoor mask mandate was lifted Thursday. Italians face a similar treat Friday.

Both countries have high vaccination rates, declining infection numbers and lower hospitalization figures than during previous surges of the coronavirus.

After peaking in January, Spain’s contagion rate has been dropping for two weeks, alleviating pressure on hospitals and encouraging authorities to relax some of the measures adopted in mid-December against the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Read the story here.

—Manu Fernandez, The Associated Press

Philippines welcomes back foreign travelers after 2 years

The Philippines lifted a nearly two-year ban on foreign travelers Thursday in a lifesaving boost for its tourism and related industries as an omicron-fueled surge eases.

Foreign travelers from 157 countries with visa-free arrangements with the Philippines who have been fully vaccinated and tested negative for the virus will be welcomed back and will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival. The government also ended a risk classification system that banned travelers from the worst-hit countries.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

US inflation jumped 7.5% in the past year, a 40-year high

Inflation soared over the past year at its highest rate in four decades, hammering America’s consumers, wiping out pay raises and reinforcing the Federal Reserve’s decision to begin raising borrowing rates across the economy.

The Labor Department said Thursday that consumer prices jumped 7.5% last month compared with 12 months earlier, the steepest year-over-year increase since February 1982. The acceleration of prices ranged across the economy, from food and energy to apartment rents and electricity.

When measured from December to January, inflation was 0.6%, the same as the previous month and more than economists had expected. Prices had risen 0.7% from October to November and 0.9% from September to October.

Shortages of supplies and workers, heavy doses of federal aid, ultra-low interest rates and robust consumer spending combined to send inflation leaping in the past year. And there are few signs that it will slow significantly anytime soon.

Read the story here.

—Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press
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Africa moving toward control of COVID-19 says WHO director

Africa is moving to the “control phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased vaccination rates will be crucial in helping the continent live with the disease, the World Health Organization’s Africa director Matshidiso Moeti said Thursday.

“Although COVID-19 will be with us for the long term, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Moeti said. “This year we can end the disruption and destruction the virus has left in its path, and gain back control over our lives.”

Read the story here.

—Mogomotsi Magome, The Associated Press

Prince Charles isolating after testing positive for COVID-19

Britain’s Prince Charles has tested positive for COVID-19 and is self-isolating, his office said Thursday.

A message on his official Twitter page said Charles tested positive on Thursday morning and was “deeply disappointed” not to be able to attend a scheduled visit in Winchester, England.

Charles, 73, met dozens of people during a large reception at London’s British Museum on Wednesday evening. He was accompanied by his wife Camilla, and was in close contact with Britain’s Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, among others.

Read the story here.

—The Associated Press

COVID-19 truck blockade in Canada shuts down Ford plant

A blockade of the bridge between Canada and Detroit by protesters demanding an end to Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions forced the shutdown Wednesday of a Ford plant and began to have broader implications for the North American auto industry.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, stood firm against an easing of Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions in the face of mounting pressure during recent weeks by protests against the restrictions and against Trudeau himself.

The protest by people mostly in pickup trucks entered its third day at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Traffic was prevented from entering Canada, while U.S.-bound traffic was still moving.

The bridge carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, and Canadian authorities expressed increasing worry about the economic effects.

Ford said late Wednesday that parts shortages forced it to shut down its engine plant in Windsor and to run an assembly plant in Oakville, Ontario, on a reduced schedule.

Read the story here.

—Tom Krisher and Rob Gillies, The Associated Press
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‘We are not there yet’: States drop mask rules, but CDC stands firm

The White House has been meeting with outside health experts to plan a pandemic exit strategy and a transition to a “new normal,” but the behind-the-scenes effort is crashing into a very public reality: A string of blue-state governors have gotten ahead of President Joe Biden by suddenly abandoning their mask mandates.

Two of the administration’s top doctors — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both expressed qualified optimism on Wednesday about the direction of the pandemic. If cases continue to fall and no new variants arise, the country “could be heading toward what we would consider more normality,” Fauci said in an interview.

But Fauci cautioned that the situation “is still unpredictable,” and said any transition out of the current crisis would be gradual. And Walensky said pointedly that while her agency is working on new guidance for the states, it is too soon for all Americans to take off their masks in indoor public places.

“Our hospitalizations are still high, our death rates are still high,” she said during a news briefing by the White House COVID response team. “So, as we work toward that and as we are encouraged by the current trends, we are not there yet.”

Read the full story here.

—Sheryl Gay Stolberg, The New York Times

Catch up on the past 24 hours

Washington state's outdoor mask mandate will end next week, Gov. Jay Inslee said yesterday. He's mapping out when to end other mask rules as pressure grows from politicians and the state schools chief.

Is it even a good idea to unmask? As scientists split over lifting mandates, here are the facts and perspectives to consider. "We are not there yet," the CDC warns. But in a slew of liberal states, many of the mask restrictions that have divided Americans are vanishing abruptly, leaving President Joe Biden hemmed in. 

A Western Washington warehouse has been fined $285,000 for "severe" violations of COVID-19 rules after more than 250 of its workers tested positive in just a few months.

Ten-year-old Teresa's teacher appointed her "class nurse." The girl beamed with pride as she talked about walking sick classmates to the office, her dad says. Then Teresa, too young to be vaccinated at the time, came home sick herself. Within a week, she was dead. Her grieving parents want answers.

—Kris Higginson